Poughkeepsie Common Council holds off on PBA contract vote

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POUGHKEEPSIE – The Common Council failed to approve a memorandum of agreement to extend the contract with the City of Poughkeepsie Police Benevolent Association on Monday night.  The current contract is set to expire on December 31, 2020.  The council leadership said they are going to consider the issue again on January 19 of next year.

At the beginning of the meeting, a few members of the public encouraged the council to hold off on renewing the police contract until details of the Civilian Review Board are finalized and the city complies with Governor Cuomo’s mandate for police reforms, which are due on April 1, 2021. Several of the public participants praised the council for postponing the vote until next year.  Police officers told Mid-Hudson News that they were concerned that certain members of the public knew that the vote was being postponed but the police were not notified.

Mayor Rob Rolison said the new contract was negotiated over the last eight months, with good faith bargaining on both sides.  The police union is the only union representing city employees that agreed to forego pay raises in 2021 to help offset budget shortfalls created by the COVID-19 pandemic.  “This council should have the guts to say yes or no; however, this is just more of the same from this council leadership who only makes decisions when they feel it benefits them,” he said.

Detective Chris Libolt, the PBA vice-president who called in during the public comment portion of the virtual meeting to denounce ENJAN with comments he says “represent every sworn officer we have that risk their lives every day to keep the city safe.”  ENJAN is a regional group of activists that lobby to fight mass incarceration.

“This council continuously succumbs to outside pressure from organizations like ENJAN and other ‘non-stakeholders’,” while calling out the groups for lack of community involvement.  “Our members are active in the community, while these outsiders do nothing more than attempt to advance their political agenda at the expense of this community.”

Councilmember Sarah Brannen took exception with Libolt’s assessment and requested a meeting with Libolt, Police Chief Tom Pape, and members of ENJAN.   Pape, known for public outreach said, “I’m sure we can arrange that.”  Brannen called Libolt’s remarks “upsetting” and said that it was making her tearful.  At the same time Brannen was expressing her emotions, she railed against the city’s cops on social media, saying, “The City of Poughkeepsie PBA seriously just said that E.N.J.A.N. wants to ‘pull this city apart’, questioned their contributions to the city, and called the members ‘non-stakeholders’.  How does this incendiary and disrespectful language help unify the city?”  Fellow councilman Evan Menist shared Brannen’s post within seconds, saying in part, “This language doesn’t help anyone.”

The lawmakers went into executive session for more than 90 minutes to discuss the extension.  When they finally returned, Council Chair Sarah Salem indicated that the issue would be considered next year.  Councilman Chris Petsas said that it should be addressed sooner.  “The PBA deserves a new contract since their current contract runs out at the end of the year, and they deserve an up-or-down vote in the coming weeks.”

PBA President Kevin Van Wagner, an officer assigned to the Community Policing division, expressed his frustrations with the council’s failure to vote.  “Our members have worked around the clock since the pandemic first arrived in March to protect this city.  Some of our men and women even contracted the virus as a result.”

Van Wagner pointed out that the nearly 100 uniformed officers, detectives, and other members were given the two-page agreement a week before they voted on it.  “The common council members have had the same two-page agreement for three weeks and have not reached out to us with any questions.  Once again this council has chosen to sacrifice our brave officers in an attempt to pander to their supporters.”  Continuing to denounce the council’s failure to vote, he added, “In the past month alone, two of our officers were viciously attacked by a man trying to kill them with a screwdriver but no councilmember shed tears about that.  We’ve also taken several illegal guns off the streets lately and assisted in the arrest of violent gang members accused of murder.  Those actions have also been ignored by members of the council as they chose to instead offer their thoughts and well-wishes for another city worker that was sidelined due to the virus.”

Council Chair Sarah Salem failed to respond to a request asking for an explanation for the delayed vote.  The request was sent to her via email and text message during the meeting.